By Thomas J. Basile Middleberg Sustainability (www.GoingGreenPR.com)

Yesterday's announcement by the president of new emissions and mileage standards will hopefully, and at long last sound the death-knell for the old gas guzzler in the driveway. The announcement is a rare breath of fresh air, pardon the pun, from Washington regulators and policy-makers. Environmental regulation in this country has lacked the necessary balance that can make it effective. Regulators and legislators often try to do too much too quickly, forcing years of costly litigation or in an effort to show some environmental progress, craft uninspired rules that do little to help the planet.

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Now the automakers, who should be starving to engage today's more eco-responsible consumer, have an opportunity to take the kind innovation not long ago reserved only for the Prius into the mainstream.

The Obama administration got it right this time. The auto industry has been avoiding the issue of fuel efficiency for years. With the technology available to provide greater fuel efficiency than 40 MPG already in existence, some may say that the Obama plan doesn't go far enough. Not true. By bringing all the parties to the table and charting a middle course, Obama is doing everything he can to nudge industry in the right direction while avoiding the litigation that would stall any progress.

Bolstered by the Federal government's new role in saving the big three from financial ruin, they brought environmentalists and industry together, to create a proposed regulation that is reasonable in scope for consumers, industry and the environment. This isn't a classic case of Federal government over-regulation. The proposal actually streamlines emissions and MPG requirements by removing a layer of state regulation that can drive up costs.

Should we be producing cars that get 50 or even 100 miles per gallon? Sure. The way we power our transportation hasn't fundamentally changed in decades. It's 2009 and we should be doing much better.

That's where private sector innovation comes in. The American consumer should be demanding that their automakers now go beyond compliance with these new rules and up the ante on the government. Industries of all kinds have done it time and time again over the past decade. It's the green wave we've been seen begin to pervade virtually every consumer offering.

Now the automakers, who should be starving to engage today's more eco-responsible consumer, have an opportunity to take the kind innovation not long ago reserved only for the Prius into the mainstream.

Obama has done his part. Now the great American enterprise system should show the world once more what we can really do, with a little nudge from government.

Thomas J. Basile is a former Director of Communications for the US Environmental Protection Agency and Managing Director of the Middleberg Sustainability Group, a Public Relations firm that specializes in environmental communications.